The Free Marches encompass a group of city-states situated in eastern Thedas (south of Antiva and the Tevinter Imperium, east of Nevarra, and north of Ferelden). The three real cities with any semblance of power in the Marches are Kirkwall, Starkhaven and Tantervale, each led by a titled official with the special right to name their city's Champion.
The "Marchers" are independent-minded descendants of tough barbarians. Their cities have formed a loose confederation that rarely unites on any matter. In the event of aggression from larger neighbors, however, the Marchers can assemble a joint military front that even the greatest powers cannot dismiss.
During the Fifth Blight, many Fereldan refugees fled to the Free Marches.
Originally the cities that now make the Free Marches were either Planasene villages conquered by the magisters or settlements established from the grounds up by the Tevinters as the nation expanded. The settlements and villages grew into cities under Tevinter development.
Between -180 Ancient and -170 Ancient, the Alamarri led by Maferath and Andraste invaded the Tevinter Imperium, taking over much of their southern territory. Andraste established a fortress in Nevarra City, led by one of her disciples, Hector. After Maferath betrayed Andraste to Archon Hessarian in -170 Ancient, it was from Nevarra City that Andraste was captured. In exchange for betraying Andraste, Maferath was granted the lands of southern Thedas. He gave the lands that would become the Free Marches to his middle son, Evrion. However, after Maferath's treachery was exposed in -160 Ancient by a repentant Archon Hessarian, Evrion dispersed his holdings between various tribes and renounced his lineage. As a result, the area never coalesced into a cohesive nation. The cities took the opportunity to break free and become independent. This state was not to last, however, as many of the cities were taken over and then regained their independence once again; others, such as Nevarra City expanded so much that they turned into full grown nations.
For some unknown reason, three magisters and their legions were sent to Emerius during Andraste's Exalted March, but never reached the city. In the wake of Andraste's invasion, Emerius became cut off from centers of powers and suffered several attempts at consolidating the region into a single kingdom by various warlords. Emerius eventually fell to a slave revellion in -25 Ancient.
In 1:95 Divine, the last battle of the Second Blight was fought at Starkhaven with a human army led by the Wardens. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but Zazikel was finally slain by the Grey Warden Corin.
In 2:15–2:45 Glory, King Fyruss of Starkhaven attempted to unite the Free Marches under his banner and build his own empire. After his failure to conquer any city-state despite multiple campaigns, Fyruss was betrayed by his Tevinter allies and ousted from Starkhaven. The Tevinter Imperium annexed Starkhaven in 2:45.
In 5:12 Exalted, the Archdemon Andoral awoke, triggering the Fourth Blight. The darkspawn devastated Antiva and Rivain before swarming across the Free Marches. The cities of Wycome and Kirkwall were evacuated by the Grey Wardens and Fortress Haine was rebuilt as a haven for refugees.
In 5:37 Exalted, Tylus, the first Van Markham king of Nevarra, was crowned after having claimed to be a descendant of Drakon's son, killed in Cumberland. Being a hero of the recent Fourth Blight, Tylus was able to stir nationalistic feelings in the western Free Marches against the growing power of Orlais. He proved his military might by winning several major battles against the Orlesians, with a decisive battle taking place in 5:40, establishing Nevarra as a new, growing power.
In 7:56 Storm, the Qunari landed near Ostwick and launched assaults against Starkhaven and Kirkwall. Starkhaven prevailed, but Kirkwall fell due to the magic of the Saarebas. The city remained under Qunari power until Orlesian chevalier Ser Michel Lafaille liberated Kirkwall in 7:60 Storm. He found that most of the population had converted to the Qun. Kirkwall was incorporated into the Orlesian Empire, and Lafaille became the ruler of the city, named Viscount by the Orlesian emperor.
In 8:05 Blessed, Kirkwall rebelled against Orlesian rule and gained independence, but maintained the title of viscount for its ruler.
In 8:82 Blessed, Nevarra began a bloody campaign of conquest within the Free Marches, encouraged by their taking of Perendale and Hasmal. They were stopped by Cade Arvale, who was named Champion of Tantervale for his deed.
In 9:21 Dragon, Viscount Perrin Threnhold attempted to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall, killing Knight-Commander Guylian in a raid on the Templar stronghold, only to be overthrown by the Knight-Captain Meredith Stannard. For her actions in stopping Threnhold, Meredith was named Knight-Commander by Grand Cleric Elthina soon after. With the Chantry's support, Meredith appointed Marlowe Dumar to succeed Perrin as Viscount, while remaining the true authority in the city.
In 9:31 Dragon, Qunari set out to meet Orlesians who agreed to return the Tome of Koslun to them. However, the book is intercepted by a Rivaini pirate. The Qunari pursue the thief, but a storm causes both of their ships to founder on the coast of Kirkwall. The Arishok and his surviving army are forced to remain in the Qunari Compound until they can reclaim the Tome of Koslun.
In 9:34 Dragon, after a series of provocations, the Arishok attcks the city, starting the First Battle of Kirkwall. In the ensuing invasion, Viscount Dumar is killed by the Arishok. Hawke is instrumental in liberating the city and is thus named "Champion of Kirkwall" by Kirkwall's Knight-Commander, Meredith Stannard.In 9:37 Dragon, the apostate mage Anders destroys the Kirkwall Chantry. The Templars attempt to annul the Circle in retaliation, igniting the Kirkwall Rebellion and inspiring mages throughout Thedas to rebel against the Circle system. The Champion of Kirkwall kills First Enchanter Orsino and Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard during the battle.
- Ansburg – located in the eastern Free Marches, alongside the Minanter River. Though it's a bustling center of agricultural trade, Ansburg is frequently called a "backwater".
- Hasmal – its position on the edge of the Silent Plains means a regular influx of Tevinter refugees (usually escaped slaves).
- Hambleton – located near Markham
- Hercinia – a palatial city-state on the Amaranthine coast. Known for its taxes and frequent raider activity.
- Kirkwall – as the gate for nautical trade moving into and out of the heart of the continent, Kirkwall is the major trade hub of the Free Marches.
- Markham – Ansburg's more cultured sister city, located in the southern Free Marches, not far from the Vimmark Mountains. Markham is a center for agricultural research and home to one of the largest universities in Thedas.
- Ostwick – its position on the mouth of the Waking Sea made it the Qunari's first landing point in the Free Marches. Famous for its double walls.
- Starkhaven – largest city in the Free Marches. Located alongside the Minanter River.
- Tantervale – located in the western Free Marches along the banks of the Minanter River. One of the three most influential cities in the Free Marches. Chantry law is all but absolute, and the city guard is obsessed with enforcement.
- Wycome – located on the Amaranthine coast, near the mouth of the Minanter river. Widely regarded as the most free of the Free Marches and the revelry capital of Thedas. Notable for being the second-greatest importer of Antivan wine after Orlais depite having less than a third the population of Val Royeaux.
- The Bone Pit
- Green Dales
- Planasene Forest
- Vimmark Mountains
- Wounded Coast
- Abandoned Ruins
- Abandoned Slaver Den
- Corypheus's Prison
- Minanter River
Culture and society
Marchers were once known for raiding the northern seaboard of Ferelden. Nevarra started out as a member of the Free Marches, but has expanded in size and power far beyond its former peers.
The Marches were once part of the Tevinter Imperium, evidence of which is found in the architecture of cities—high buildings built almost all in white stone.
The Free Marches are known as the breadbasket of Thedas; its farms along the banks of the Minanter River are the source of much of the continent's food. Starkhaven, the largest of the cities in the Free Marches, is situated on this waterway.
The central location of the Marches relative to the other lands of Thedas makes the population very culturally diverse. The movement of goods and trade brings people from across the continent, and many native-born Marchers are born of parents from elsewhere. That being said, the region is not completely welcoming to newcomers. Many Marcher-born citizens resent the presence of foreigners and see the influence of outside nations and cultures as a threat to their way of life. In the wake of the Fifth Blight, Kirkwall in particular suffered from an outgrowth of nativist sentiment, as the presence of so many Fereldan refugees and a force of marooned Qunari led to a backlash from Marchers angry at what they saw as a takeover of the city by foreign powers.
Despite the cosmopolitan tendencies of the area, rivalries between Marcher cities usually take precedence over the common bond of "being a Marcher".
The Grand Tourney
- Main article: Grand Tourney
One of the Free Marches' most celebrated events is the Grand Tourney. It is held once every thousand days in cities across the Free Marches. Participants from all over Thedas converge on this festival of martial skill and valor in a competition to crown a champion of the games. The victor is awarded a coronet of sage leaves and a trophy blade known as the Celebrant, which is inscribed with the names of every champion since the first Tourney.
A letter by a Free Marcher reads: "The most important thing to know about the Free Marches is that we're free. We determine our own destiny, and that pleases us. Beyond that, the only other time we coalesce is when Grand Tourney comes to town. Then we boldly express our pride to any foreigner who'll listen. We'll kiss freedom on the lips and even lock arms with a proud Starkhavener! Alas, it lasts only a day, but there's no harm in that, right?" The tradition of the Grand Tourney is considered one of few common bonds that every Marcher shares happily, and is a notoriously jubilant phenomenon despite its brevity.
Known winners include:
- Lord Aurelien of Montsimmard – winner of the Grand Tourney of Ansburg (sometime prior to 8:84 Blessed)
- Talisa of Sundarin – a lady knight from the Anderdelfs who caused scandal by winning the tourney twice in a row; was voted "Most-Loved Champion in the History of the Tourney"
- Reeve Asa – won three consecutive Grand Tourneys
- Lady Honorine Chastain – winner of the Grand Tourney of Tantervale
- Thom Rainier – winner of the melee during a Grand Tourney
- Ser Jacques Gallais – a chevalier; winner of the tourney before the Grand Tourney of Starkhaven held around 9:44 Dragon
- Unnamed Avvar
The Free Marches have no central government, no king and no capital, making the whole region difficult to protect and its economy disparate. Each city is self-governing and wary of intrusions by its neighbours, frequently leading to tensions between them as they jocky and vie for power. The government of each state also varies, the seaport of Kirkwall, for example, is officially governed by a singular ruler in the form of the Viscount, but real political authority rests in the heads of the local chapter of the Templar Order.
Official titles differ from one Marcher city to another, though currently none of them boasts a King. The supreme leaders are titled as follows:
- Duke – the ruler of Wycome; known Dukes include:
- Lord/Lady Chancellor – the ruler of Tantervale; known Lord Chancellors include:
- Joffrey Orrick – Lord Chancellor in 9:29
- Margrave/Margravine – the ruler of Ansburg; known Margraves includes:
- Prince – the ruler of Starkhaven; Starkhaven has been ruled by a number of overlords seeking extravagant titles, the latest being King Ironfist; after Ironfist's rule was peacefully ended, the city's people begged the noble who led the successful protest—Vael—to be their new king; feeling no one was worthy of such a title and that it would encourage corruption as it had with previous rulers, Vael refused, declaring Prince to be Starkhaven's supreme title; known Princes include:
- Lord Vael – the first Prince of Starkhaven
- Artesian Vael – a Prince who ruled during the Exalted Age
- Corbinian Vael – supposed heir to the throne of Starkhaven
- Goran Vael – a cousin of the main Vael family who was placed on the throne as a puppet by Lady Johane Harimann, who had the previous Prince and most of his immediate heirs assassinated in 9:31
- Sebastian Vael – Prince of Starkhaven in 9:41
- Teyrn – the ruler of Ostwick
- Viscount – the title given to the rulers of Kirkwall and Kaiten; it originates from when the lands of the Marches were part of the Orlesian Empire; known Viscounts include:
- Viscounts of Kaiten:
- Viscounts of Kirkwall:
- Ser Michel Lafaille – the first Viscount of Kirkwall; an Orlesian who led an army of chevaliers against the Qunari occupying Kirkwall, he was appointed Viscount by the Emperor in 7:60
- Chivalry Threnhold – became Viscount at the beginning of the Dragon Age; the father of Perrin Threnhold
- Perrin Threnhold – assumed the title in 9:14, notorious for attempting to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall in 9:21; he was ousted and imprisoned until his death by poison two years later
- Marlowe Dumar – the Viscount of Kirkwall from 9:21 until his execution by the Arishok in 9:34
- Hawke – named as the new Viscount/Viscountess in 9:37 if they side with the templars at the onset of the mage rebellion in Kirkwall
- Bran Cavin – Provisional Viscount of Kirkwall by 9:41
- Varric Tethras – Voted Viscount c. 9:43
- Ambassador – an accredited diplomat representative; known ambassadors include:
- Galen Vedas – Starkhaven ambassador to Nevarra 9:6 Dragon
For everybody else, Serah and Messere are common, gender-neutral forms of address within the Free Marches. Serah is used when addressing someone of equal or lesser status, while Messere is for a person of greater status.
This title is bestowed, generally by a city ruler, on an individual who has proven their dedication to the city in blood, sweat, and leadership. The title is not necessarily a sign of honor, for a Champion can utilize methods that evoke love or fear. There have been Champions of Starkhaven, Tantervale and Kirkwall; known Champions include:
- Unnamed Champion of Starkhaven – who fought during the Fourth Blight, including at the Battle of Ayesleigh
- Cade Arvale – originally from Rivain, named Champion of Tantervale in 8:82 Blessed for stopping Nevarra's expansion into the Free Marches.
- Hawke – first Champion of Kirkwall; named in 9:34 Dragon for repelling the Qunari during the First Battle of Kirkwall
Notable people with Free Marcher origins
- Bram Kenric
- Bran Cavin
- Charade Amell
- Donnic Hendyr
- Gamlen Amell
- The Inquisitor
- Leandra Amell
- Marlowe Dumar
- Meredith Stannard
- Raleigh Samson
- Saemus Dumar
- Sebastian Vael
- Lady Susanna Ashwell
- Thom Rainier (also known as Blackwall)
- Varric Tethras
- The Warden (Human Magi Origin only)
- Codex entry: Armor of the Fallen
- Codex entry: The Free Marches
- Codex entry: Chateau Haine
- Codex entry: The Celebrant
- Codex entry: Mantle of the Champion
- Codex entry: Marcher Misconceptions
- Codex entry: The Summer Sword
- In Dragon Age II, a loading screen trivia claims that there are only two Circles of Magi in the Free Marches; one in Starkhaven and the other in Kirkwall. In Dragon Age: Inquisition however, it is revealed that there is a Circle in Ostwick and one in Hasmal. There are also mentions of a circle in Markham and Ansburg, though it is not known whether these still exist.
- Jellied meats are a delicacy in some parts of the Free Marches.